A u-turn from the fork in the road. Jim Macnamara on practitioner research-phobia…

Is it enough for us to simply ‘accept’ that practitioners do not get involved in formative and evaluative research (a sort of ‘research-phobia’) because of lack of time and its prohibitive costs? For researches and academics, these are only outright excuses as low and even no-cost evaluation methods are widely available. Instead they cite practitioner lack of interest, commitment and knowledge, as the real underlying reason….Of course this is not sufficient for anyone interested in governed change! As change happens anyway, whether we like it or not, we should try to at least govern that change which mostly affects the dynamics of our profession!

And this is where Jim Macnamara the highly reputed senior Australian professional, academic and researcher- is in the final stages of refining an articulated and stimulating paper, for the moment entitled ‘the fork in the road’, in which he convincingly argues that, at a certain point, driven by market pressures rather than managing the market, the public relations profession took a wrong turn principally focussing on outputs while leaving outcomes far behind. But -he also implies- we must not miss the great opportunity that is now offered to us to u-turn and get back on the right track.He goes on to say:we are witnessing the beginning of a new era in public communication and the birth of new media as significant as, or even more significant than, the development of television.

Web 2.0 applications…..represent a fundamental shift because they enable the long-held view that communication should be two-way. In (these)… the operative concepts are conversations and communities, occurring through online forums, chat rooms, blogs and collaborative Web sites….These new networks are rewriting the rules of media relations, community relations and stakeholder communication. One-way media such as traditional newspapers, brochures, non-interactive Web sites and newsletters including static e-newsletters are side roads and, in some cases, dead-ends in communication. New routes to audiences are being constructed; new social networks are being built. We face a necessity and a great opportunity to chart a new course.

If this is the challenge, Macanamara contends that ….

Even though public relations has evolved to be much broader than ‘journalism for hire’ and press agentry, it has continued to focus on practice and, particularly, on the production of outputs. While modern academic thinking and research in media and communication departed substantially from the direct effects approach and made new discoveries about how people learn (eg. social learning theory, social cognitive theory, social comparison, situational theory, and an increasingly integrated view of how communication works), mainstream public relations continued down its practical path or straight ahead based on outdated assumptions about the effects of communication.

Jim insists that Academia together with Professional Associations are the principal actors on whose shoulders resides the required turnaround effort from that ‘fork on the road’. …many courses for public relations… focus on writing press releases, dealing with journalists, producing newsletters, making videos….. Universities have to play a lead role in ensuring that future graduates emerge with a sound, broad understanding of social sciences and, specifically, of communication and media theory. They need to teach communication practitioners about audiences and audience reception theory, about social cognitive theory and social learning theory, about media effects, about semiotics, and about modern models of public relations such as Two-Way Symmetric views…while ….PR bodies worldwide have focussed largely on getting members jobs and running endless workshops at which editors and journalists launch tirades at PR and tell us what we need to do to get 10 paragraphs in The Smithtown Weekly….

Well, this was refreshing…..now where do we go? Let’s open a discussion on this so that we might supply more thoughts to Jim for his final edit….   

Please follow our blog:

2 Replies to “A u-turn from the fork in the road. Jim Macnamara on practitioner research-phobia…

  1. Assuming this link works, clicking onhttp://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/October2006/03/c4478.html means you can go read a Canadian Public Relations Society “news” release from yesterday explaining how, for $750 Canadian, public relations people can measure media relations.

    I put “news” in quotes because I don’t think announcing 50 agency customer and many corporte customers for a product is actually news.

    Here’s the first paragraph of the release, and a Google News search on Canadian Public Relations Society will get you to it, on the CNW group news rlease distribution company web site.:
    TORONTO, Oct. 3 /CNW/ – In less than six months since its launch, the
    Media Relations Rating Points (MRP) system, developed by the Canadian Public
    Relations Society (CPRS) Measurement Committee, and endorsed by International
    Association of Business Communicators (IABC)/Toronto and the Canadian Council
    of Public Relations Firms, is rapidly becoming the industry standard for the
    measurement and evaluation of editorial media relations campaigns. To date,
    close to 50 public relations agencies plus many major corporations in Canada
    have subscribed to the MRP system.
    The release is on http://www.cprs.ca in the news slash media section, too.

    I’ve not paid my $750, so can’t comment on how well this research works, but some names I respect are involved in it.

    My own research philosphy is based in part on an old Schlitz beer commercial tag line; “You know it when it’s right” and on a history of working with tight budgets, where I’d rather spend money on doing something else proactive rather than looking backwards.

    Where I do believew in research is in pre-study, where I like to know what people think before I get to work, and in Justification-Research, where a post-event study is done to convince people (usually with budget control) to let me keep going.

    And I like research before a program, to convince clients/employers to approve a plan.

    One favorite program-convincer was this question: “Would you say this cmpany is well managed, indifferently managed, or badly managed?” When “badly” was dominant, the president approved a whole bunch of internal communications plans coupled with new rules for managers. A year later, we did justification reseach to convince the president we could keep going with our changes.

    CPRS elected prsident Colleen Killingsworth is quoted in the CPRS news release.


  2. One of the fun things about social media is that for many areas of activity monitoring, measurement and analysis is really easy. In addition, the tools are available to everyone.

    Transparent monitoring and evaluation is critical for the U turn.

    If PR’s still think they can blag their way through, they are mightily mistaken.

    One of the dissertations by a student last year used analysis of blog comment to identify the effectiveness of types of press technique. Another sought to find behavioural effects among bloggers consequent on printed press coverage.

    In both cases there was empirical data and evidence to inform press` relations practice.

    Nothing complicated, easily replicable and very revealing.

    Lets star off with the simple idea that there is no place to hide. All you do on line and offline can be assesed for thier influence in social (I mean social – to take Jim’s point) media.

Comments are closed.